I wonder if I’d be as engrossed in social media, as willing to share, as excited by engagement stats, if I didn’t have something to sell. Or is, “I’m an author using social media to build my personal brand,” really just my way of excusing a need to be followed, favourited, retweeted by as many people as possible?
I’m told John Green became massive because of YouTube. Not certain I believe it, but the YouTubers with massive book deals for memoirs about overcoming the adversity of not knowing how conventionally attractive they are? Yeah, they’re massive because of YouTube.
We’ve watched, in recent years, the commodification of identity, and more specifically, friendship. People who we feel close to online have turned that feeling into profit.
Coming to social media as a professional first, person second, I am suspicious of oversharing online, of courting the attention and adoration of people I will likely never meet, seemingly for no personal gain. It’s empty celebrity, building a brand with no product to sell.
A friend ramped up his social media game recently, friend in the we-saw-each-other-naked-once kind of way. He started snapping about coupled life more, recipe how-tos, workout tips (yeah, like we all follow personal trainers on social media for the stellar advice). It had nothing to do with his profession, and I wondered what he had to gain. Why he would even bother. Was he pivoting into a career in personal fitness? And then … the why happened.
He shared a story on Snapchat, a photograph with his partner, barely clothed, with a website link. It promised them, “unlocked”.
For “only $2.99 a week” (billed monthly at $12.99, a $0.03 loss over the course of a calendar year), the service promises exclusive Snapchat content. You get “instant and unrestricted access” to “experience life through [their] eyes” and “private message [them] any time”.
At first, it made me laugh. I admire people who can outrun satire. Then I recognised the sadness running through it. It’s friendship as premium content. It’s the gay Sydney equivalent of Tidal nobody asked for (kind of like the music equivalent of Tidal, Tidal). It’s a case of the cool kids clique charging others for the friendship experience, and like Tidal, people will subscribe, because they want to be closer to Beyoncé, to Rihanna.
It’s a tale as old as t… en or so years ago: Build content, attract a following, whack up a paywall. But surely, “What do you want to know about us? Ask us … ANYTHING!” is a bridge too far.
I intended this piece to be a call to arms, a plea to stop this before it takes over, but who am I kidding? I’m paying a premium price for concert tickets tonight so that Brandy poses for a photo with me after the show. I stay with my personal trainer because he asks about my day, and when he calls me buddy, my teenage self thinks, The sporty kid likes me! But it comes with a fee.
And I say this all, neck-deep in hypocrisy, blogging on a website I set up in the hope you’ll like me enough to click the links to the right and buy my books. I’m the problem too.